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Florida vs. Missouri Football Prediction and Preview

Author:
Tyler Badie, Missouri Tigers Football

Tyler Badie and the Tigers host the Gators in a matchup of SEC East teams looking to secure a bowl berth

The Missouri Tigers will host the Florida Gators in Columbia on Saturday for an SEC East tilt between two teams looking to secure bowl eligibility.

Florida snapped its three-game losing streak last Saturday with a 70-52 win over FCS Samford. But it was a bittersweet victory, to say the least. Quarterback Emory Jones put together a monster performance, accounting for a school-record 550 total yards and seven touchdowns. However, just days after firing defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, the Gators gave up 52 points — the most ever scored by an FCS program against an SEC opponent. Florida allowed 42 points in the first half alone — the most points allowed by the Gators in any half in school history. Now 5-5 overall and 2-5 in the SEC, Florida finds itself riddled in turmoil, while head coach Dan Mullen sits squarely on the hot seat. The silver lining is that the Gators still have two opportunities to become bowl eligible, starting on Saturday with a road trip to face Missouri.

It's been a disappointing campaign for the Tigers and head coach Eli Drinkwitz as well. The good news is that they have won two of their last three contests, including a much-needed 31-28 victory against South Carolina last Saturday to capture the "Mayor's Cup." Running back Tyler Badie piled up more than 200 rushing yards for the fourth time this season, and the typically porous Mizzou run defense limited the Gamecocks to just 57 yards on the ground. The Tigers sit at 5-5 overall and 2-4 in SEC play with an opportunity to lock up a bowl berth with an upset of the Gators on Saturday.

Saturday's game will mark the 11th meeting all-time between Missouri and Florida. The Gators have won the last two, including a 41-17 victory over the Tigers last season in Gainesville to tie the all-time series at five wins apiece.

Florida at Missouri

Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 20 at 4 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Florida -8.5

When Florida Has the Ball

While the Florida offense has been on a bit of a roller-coaster ride of late, the Gators are still averaging an SEC-best 7.07 yards per play. For better or worse, Jones is the catalyst behind the Gator offense. For the season, he has completed a respectable 68.5 percent of his pass attempts for 2,139 yards with 18 touchdowns. The dual-threat signal-caller also serves as the Gators' leading rusher with 629 yards and four scores on the ground. Jones' downfall has been costly interceptions — his 10 have him tied for second in the SEC in this dubious distinction.

Following Jones' big performance last week against Samford, Mullen emphasized that Jones would continue to be his starting quarterback moving forward, but also acknowledged that there could be a package in place on Saturday for Anthony Richardson, who is now 100 percent healthy after battling a concussion and knee injury.

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The supporting cast is solid. Wide receiver Jacob Copeland leads the team in both receiving yards (473) and touchdown grabs (4), while Justin Shorter leads in receptions (34). Despite firing offensive line coach John Hevesy following the loss to South Carolina, the Gators have done well up front — allowing the second-fewest sacks in the SEC (9) and leading the way for a run game that averages an FBS-best 5.97 yards per carry. Quarterbacks Jones and Richardson have done a lot of the heavy lifting for the potent Florida ground attack, combining for 1,003 yards and seven scores on the ground. However, running backs Dameon Pierce and Malik Davis have been instrumental as well. Pierce averages 6.6 yards per tote and leads all Gators with 13 total touchdowns (10 rushing).

Florida matches up well against a Missouri defense that ranks 13th in the SEC in total defense (456 ypg) and dead last in the conference in scoring defense (35.9 ppg). The Gators should be able to find success through the air against a Mizzou pass defense that has allowed 7.7 yards per pass attempt (13th in the SEC) and the second-most touchdown passes in the conference at 22. However, Florida's most favorable path to success will come on the ground. Missouri ranks last in the SEC and 129th nationally against the run, surrendering 249.6 rushing yards per contest and 5.8 yards per carry. The Tigers also have allowed 26 rushing touchdowns  the most in the SEC. To be fair, Mizzou has really tightened up against the run of late, allowing just 3.3 yards per carry in its last two matchups against Georgia and South Carolina combined. Defensive end Isaiah McGuire was even tabbed as SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week for his standout performance in the win over the Gamecocks. Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the Florida offense on Saturday will be protecting the football, as the Gators feature one of the worst turnover margins (-8) in the country.

When Missouri Has the Ball

There isn't an SEC player that has made a bigger impact for his team than Badie. The star running back has been critical for a Missouri offense that averages 434.3 yards and 31.5 points per game. Badie not only leads the SEC with 1,239 rushing yards, he also is No. 1 with 1,581 all-purpose yards and is tied for the conference lead with 16 touchdowns. Badie should be able to keep that momentum rolling on Saturday against a Florida defense that ranks 78th nationally against the run and has been on a steady decline in recent weeks.

Prior to the start of the season, quarterback Connor Bazelak was supposed to be the driving force behind the Missouri offense. Bazelak hasn't been terrible  completing 68 percent of his passes for 2,318 yards with 15 touchdowns in nine games — and he's dealt with some injuries. But his 10 interceptions are tied with the aforementioned Jones for second in the conference, and he certainly hasn't had the big second-year surge that many expected. As a result, Bazelak now finds himself battling for the starting job with freshmen Tyler Macon and Brady Cook. Bazelak will likely get the nod against the Gators, but that's not set in stone. Regardless of which signal-caller gets the start on Saturday, the primary goal will be to keep the Florida defense honest to open up the run game for Badie. The big question is — how will the Gators respond after getting torched for 530 yards (416 passing) and 52 points last week against an FCS team with a losing record?

Final Analysis

Florida certainly has the edge in talent and depth. And the Gators would have likely pummeled the Tigers if this game had been played early in the season. But as it stands, the Gators have become increasingly difficult to trust in any matchup. Florida is clearly on a downward spiral, losing eight of its last 13 games, led by a coach on the hottest of seats. The star-studded Florida defense has been particularly perplexing of late, giving up 175 points in the last four games alone. That bodes well for a resilient Missouri squad that continues to fight hard. The Tigers will have their hands full against the Florida offense, but a much-improved run defense should go a long way in helping the cause. Throw in home-field advantage on a cold "Senior Day" in Columbia, mix in one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the SEC in Badie — and you have the recipe for an upset. The Tigers squeak out a close win over the reeling Gators to become bowl eligible.

Prediction: Missouri 38, Florida 35

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— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.